If you’ve been nominated as an executor in someone’s Will, it’s important to understand just how much of a responsibility it is.
When someone dies, their executor’s job is to bring absolutely all of their financial affairs to a close. Most people enter into a great many financial agreements over the course of their lives, from big ones such as mortgages and pension plans to regular small ones such as utilities, credit cards and subscriptions.
The main responsibilities of an executor include:
Assessing and valuing an estate
Paying any debts
Notifying relevant organisations of the death
Applying for a Grant of Probate
Paying inheritance tax
Distributing the estate as per the terms of the Will
Even a small and relatively straight-forward estate involves a lot of work for the executor. Below, we’ve given an overview of some of the lesser-known responsibilities.
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It’s not simply the executor’s job to find a Will and follow the instructions given in it, they also need to be confident that the Will is valid. There are a variety of factors that might’ve made a Will – or parts of a Will – invalid, such as remarriage or divorce. These issues are explained in our free ebook, Challenging a Will.
Once an executor is confident the Will they’ve been tasked with administering is valid, they’ll need to check the Will accounts for all assets belonging to the estate. Most wills contain a ‘residuary clause’ which means anything that isn’t specifically mentioned will go to a named residuary beneficiary. If the Will doesn’t account for all assets and doesn’t have a residuary clause, any remaining assets would need to be distributed as per intestacy laws.
Registering the death and organising the funeral
There is some crossover in responsibilities between executors and close family members when it comes to registering the death and organising the funeral. In practice, executors and close family members are often the same people.
Legally, the responsibility of registering the death falls to the person who is organising the funeral. This may well be the executor, as they are often responsible for paying for the funeral in the first instance (either by liaising with the bank where the person who has died held an account, or by covering the cost themselves and claiming it back from the estate).
Ensuring property is safe and secure
The executor has a legal responsibility to fully assess the estate and distribute it as per the Will. They are also responsible for ensuring all assets are properly protected before distribution.
Because of this, an executor has the authority to change the locks on the home of the person who has died. This may be a consideration if the executor does not know who has a spare key, or if they have any other concerns about security. It’s also wise for an executor to check there is sufficient buildings and contents insurance in place and that any requirements for unoccupied properties are being abided by.
Preparing a property for sale
Property will often need to be sold in order for an estate to be fully administered and inheritance tax paid. In these cases, it will be the executor’s job to prepare the property for sale and manage the process. This may involve clearing and cleaning the house, or more significant maintenance and repairs might be needed.
Even if a property will not be sold before an estate is administered (for example, if the property has been left to a family member who plans to live in it themselves) the executor will be responsible for obtaining a full valuation of the property for inheritance tax purposes.
Rehoming pets and items of sentimental value
An executor will be responsible for ensuring any pets belonging to the person who has died are being taken care of. This will often be done within the family, but in some instances an executor may have to contact a rehoming charity.
Where there are sentimental items of no market value (such as photographs, diaries and keepsakes) that are not mentioned in the Will, an executor will have the authority to distribute these amongst the family of the person who has died.
Managing inheritance tax
A key role for executors is to establish whether inheritance tax is due. Where there is inheritance tax to pay, the executor will have to determine how it will be paid. This can be straightforward if there’s enough cash in the estate to cover the cost of the bill. If there isn’t, there will usually be property that can be sold in order to meet costs.
If the beneficiaries are unwilling or unable to sell property to pay an inheritance tax bill, the executor can arrange for the inheritance tax to be paid in instalments.
Tracking down beneficiaries
The person who has died will usually have chosen beneficiaries they are in regular contact with who will not require tracking down. However, this is not always the case. In some situations, executors may need to locate beneficiaries the person who has died was no longer in contact with.
It’s also possible for beneficiaries to have died before receiving their inheritance. In these cases, executors will need to determine who is entitled to receive the inheritance on their behalf.
Do executors have to manage all this themselves?
How an executor chooses to handle their role is a personal choice. Some may feel confident enough about what’s expected of them to handle the situation themselves. Others may decide to seek professional support.
Specialist probate solicitors can support executors through this process. Some people may seek advice when an issue arises they’re unsure of, others may decide to hand over full responsibility for administering the estate. A solicitor will be able to be as hands-on as required.
Though there are certainly costs involved in working with a probate solicitor, many executors find these costs are offset by the amount a professional is able to save on inheritance tax through their understanding of tax relief options.
Another significant benefit of working with a probate solicitor is that they can help to avoid costly mistakes. Many people don’t realise that executors can be held personally liable for any mistakes or oversights made when administering an estate. A solicitor will help to significantly reduce the likelihood of this happening.
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